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ABC’s New ‘View’ Debuts With Muted Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg

ABC presented a serene “View” Monday , rather than a cluttered one.

The venerable ABC daytime talkfest debuted Monday with a new table of hosts, but little of the sniping or back-and-forth that audiences may have hoped they’d see given the return of outspoken comedienne Rosie O’Donnell to the program. Instead, viewers saw the show’s new team trying to feel each other out while introducing themselves to a curious viewership and audience.

“We are going to be trying a lot of new stuff,” said Whoopi Goldberg, the one holdover from the “View’s” past. “Some of it will work and some of it won’t.”  No matter what, added Goldberg, who joined the show in 2007, viewers would always see “great women and great conversation.”

When Barbara Walters and Bill Geddie created the program and launched it in 1997, it represented something fresh: a talk show with well-known and outspoken female hosts who could opine on issues of the day in freewheeling fashion. Over 16 seasons, however, the show has often become known for friction between its stars as much as it has for its frank talk.

Now ABC is banking on the combination of veteran “View” moderator Whoopi Goldberg; Rosie O’Donnell, who worked on the program for a year and left amidst feuding; actress Rosie Perez; and political consultant and avowed Republican Nicole Wallace, who worked for both President George W. Bush and John McCain. The network blanketed networks like Bravo and HGTV with promos all weekend long, promising the new program would mark the debut of something interesting.

The Walt Disney-owned network has reason to add new elements to the program. In recent years, other outlets have joined the fray –with decidedly less spitting between on-air hosts. On CBS, afternoon talker “The Talk” takes place without much of the feuding that has erupted on “The View” at times.  Warner Brothers’ Telepictures  unit is unveiling a new program, “The Real,” that aims for African-American women. That program launches today.

The View” looks radically different both on screen and behind the scenes. The show has moved into a new studio, and is brighter, and its set more open. The audience is more prominent and appears more frequently during the program. A new producer, Bill Wolff, who once oversaw MSNBC’s flagship “Rachel Maddow,”will now run  proceedings.

The show opened with an awkward sketch showing the program’s new foursome kissing Barbara Walters’ hand, while the veteran ABC newswoman sat in a throne, fluttered on and asked why she hadn’t been given a crown. It marked an odd moment, because it’s strange to think any one of the four hosts  – strong women all – might bow down to anyone.

 In an interview with Variety, O’Donnell has promised a new program that will be smarter and rely less on star power. Indeed, in today’s program, there were no celebrity guests, save an appearance by Kristin Chenoweth during a tribute to Joan Rivers.

Instead, more time was devoted to letting viewers get to know Perez and Wallace better. Two segments aimed at discussion of “hot topics” let the four hosts vent about everything from the NFL’s handling of the current Ray Rice controversy and the issue of domestic violence among athletes to a kooky video of a man playing peek-a-boo with his infant daughter before and after he shaved his beard –and the upset it caused the child.

O’Donnell seemed muted in her second debut on the program, allowing the entire crew time to find a rapport. She initiailly appeared sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the set, talking about a recent bout of sciatica and the weight loss she managed to achieve.

ABC clearly saw the program as a time to promote much of its lineup, airing promos for everything from “Dancing with the Stars” to new series like “Forever and “black-ish.” Advertisers lining up for the new season premiere included Yoplait, Iams dog food, Johnson & Johnson’s Listerine and Procter & Gamble’s Head and Shoulders shampoo.

“’The View” is the show that everyone has copied, but we are the original,” Goldberg said during the program’s opening segment.  The days ahead will show how much the program hews to its traditions and how much new ground it will try to break.

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